Kale on the brain

By Sam Dean, Dec. 4, 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve food-blogged. The truth is, I haven’t been cooking much. But yesterday I made an inspiring kale dish (if I say so myself), based on a recipe in the Boston Globe.

A kale Caesar salad sounds oddly bland at first — unless, that is, you’ve been schooled on the nuanced techniques of slivered greens by chef Carlos Amaral, owner of Carlos’ Brazilian Restaurant in Roanoke. He’s the eccentric, near-deaf chef who likes to say, “I have 1,000 foods in my brain.”

It was Carlos who turned me on to sautéed collards greens and kale back in my food-columnist days. The trick is to remove the super-thick parts of the stalk, then roll the leaves up and cut them into slivers before flash-sautéing in garlic, olive oil and crushed red pepper. (Served best with rice and black beans — and Carlos’s fire-hot drizzling oil, if you have it.)

The Kale Caesar is different, though, since it’s not cooked. But if you let it sit overnight in the dressing, as I did with my leftovers, it’s even better the next day. Unlike lettuce, kale can stand up to the pressure of being shlepped in dressing overnight without wilting. You see, kale has backbone; kale can party all night without looking rode hard and put up wet.

Kale also reminds me of my favorite Franklin County farmer, Jack Ferguson. It was a year ago this month that I had the privilege of writing about his friendship with Kris Peckman, the downsized banker and kale lover who volunteered to help octogenarian Jack out on his farm because Jack’s ill wife was no longer up to the task. Not only did Kris enable Jack to keep farming. But in keeping him going, she in effect kept him alive.

I’ll never forget Sam Dean’s beautiful photograph (above) of the two of them, with Kris driving the old tractor and Jack balancing himself expertly on the hitch, holding on to flimsy reflectors for support. Oh, and did I mention that he’s 88? And that when we scaled a steep hill to look at his favorite tree, he left me in the dust?

By Sam Dean, Dec. 4, 2008

Dear kale lovers, check out the recipe below. And dear Roanoke friends, remember that you can still buy Jack and Kris’s kale at the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op.

I’ll be talking about my story on this farming duo on Sunday. The Harvard Crimson editors have asked me to talk to their writers about how to work narrative details into quick-hit features.

So kale, as you can see, has definitely been on my brain.

Kale Caesar

5 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted drive (I bought a tin of them and froze the leftovers in a small baggie for the next salad)

2 cloves garlic (double the garlic, that should go without saying!)

1 T lemon juice (double that too)

1 T red wine vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil (I used about a half cup)

1 tsp. black pepper

1/3 cup grated Parmesan

3 cups diced bread (I used good sourdough, about 1/3 of a loaf)

Salt, to taste (I use Ezera Wertz’s homemade sea salt blend — it can’t be beat, available at his Brambleton Avenue store and a great Christmas gift – hint hint)

1 pound kale, sliced into quarter-inch ribbons

1.   In a food processor, blend the anchovies and 2 cloves of garlic. Add the lemon juice and vinegar. With the motor running, add 1/2 cup of olive oil in a thin steady stream. Add pepper and Parmesan. (Throw in some red pepper flakes if you’re inclined.)

2.   In a large skillet over medium heat, put a slathering of oil oil down. Add some more crushed garlic and the bread cubes. Stir a lot, for 5 or so minutes until crisp and golden. Toss with more of Ezera’s salt.

3.   In a big salad bowl, combine the kale and enough dressing to coat it liberally. Add croutons and stir, and maybe even a bit more Parmesan.

Tom and I ate this creation for lunch with an over-easy egg that made the croutons just perfect for sopping.

Thanks to Jill Santopietro of The Globe for this recipe.

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